Archive for the ‘Glenn Ficarra’ Category

Vice and Virtue

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

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Directed by: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

Cast: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Christopher Abbott, Alfred Molina, Stephen Peacocke, Cherry Jones, Josh Charles

From the directing team that brought audiences, I Love You Philip Morris and Focus, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa bring the Afghan war drama Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, which is military jargon for WTF!

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot focuses on the experiences of journalist Kim Baker who swops the tedious life of a New York media office for the dangerous life of a war correspondent in Afghanistan, from 2004 onwards based on her own novel, “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.

30 Rock TV star and veteran comedian Tina Fey takes the title role and impressively turns in a nuanced, vaguely dramatic performance as Kim Baker ably assisted by a superb ensemble cast including Margot Robbie as a hard drinking cut-throat journalist Tanya van der Poel, Martin Freeman as a snarky Scottish reporter Iain McKelpie and best of all Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton as the no-nonsense American general Hollanek.

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Tina Fey who to date has largely appeared in comic roles alongside Amy Poehler is brilliant as Kim Baker and gives audience a chance to witness her dramatic side. As the emotional and physical strain of remaining in Afghanistan takes its toll, along with media colleagues who double cross her, Baker manages to resist the temptations of falling for her own hunky security detail, the gorgeous Nic, wonderfully played by Stephen Peacocke (Hercules) whilst forming a bond with her Afghani translator and guide, Fahim Ahmadzai brilliantly played by American actor Christopher Abbott last seen in J. C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year.

Character actor Alfred Molina also makes a hilarious turn as a Westernized Afghani government official Ali Massoud Sadiq who becomes besotted with Tina Fey’s hardnosed journalist.

Besides the decadent partying which occurs in the Ka-Bubble, as the foreigners nickname Kabul, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot highlights with dashes of humour, the difficulties invading Western forces face when dealing with a foreign country and culture so alien to their own, in this case Afghanistan.

What could be gleaned from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, besides the atrocities involved, is that war is almost like a decadent excursion into a completely different world. The scene in the film where Baker discovers the real reason a watering well is constantly being blown up in an Afghani village points to the larger gender inequalities inherent in war especially when the country being invaded is deeply patriarchal. War itself is demonstrated to be a man’s game and what makes the women in the film so fascinating especially Baker and Van der poel is their fleeting exotic beauty in a country in which the women are entirely covered up, a point so brilliantly made in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

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Whilst Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not going to win any awards cinematically, it is nevertheless a humourous and mostly farcical take on the absurdities of war, in the vein of Robert Altman’s classic film M. A. S. H. and Mike Nichol’s 1970 film Catch 22 based upon the Joseph Heller novel. What is notable is the media stance on war, whereby despite the annihilation around them, they refuse to take sides but merely show a mirror up to the brutal horrors of this contemporary man-made conflict in a hostile environment characterized by ample vice and little virtue or trust.

Recommended viewing for those that enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty and David O. Russell’s Three Kings.

From the Big Easy to Buenos Aires

FOCUS

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Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Gerald McRaney, Rodrigo Santoro, Brennan Brown, Adrian Martinez, Dominic Fumusa

The writing and directing team of I Love You Philip Morris, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa recreate a similar glossier con film teaming up Will Smith (Bad Boys) and Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) in Focus.

Con artists, petty thieves, grifters all unite in this amusing if slightly drawn out tale of Nicky who first meets the flirtatious Jess beautifully played by Robbie in a swanky New York Hotel bar. The chemistry between the two onscreen are palpable and soon the action or lack thereof, moves from icy New York to sultry New Orleans during the SuperBowl weekend.

As the crowds flock to the Big Easy to watch the Superbowl or known as the National Finals of the American Football, the con is on as Nicky with a band of thieves and light fingered crew rob the unsuspecting crowds of their watches, jewellery, wallets and even luggage in the infamous French Quarter or one of New Orleans swanky hotels.

As Nicky and Jess procure tickets to the Superbowl finals, his proclivity for gambling becomes evident as he delves into sports betting against a notorious Chinese gambler, Liyuan flamboyantly played by B. D. Wong (The Normal Heart).

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As the stakes get higher Jess soon realizes that the number 55 chosen by the gambler is part of a larger con to extract more cash out of him. After doubling their money in New Orleans, a crime partnership seems imminent put then Nicky does the unexpected U-turn and dumps Jess in the Big Easy much to her horror.

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The action moves forward three years to the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires to the racy and glamourous world of Formula One racing driving where Nicky is employed by a wealthy Argentinian playboy Garriga wonderfully played by Rodrigo Santoro who incidentally also appeared in I Love you Philip Morris to con a rival Australian team out of a special racing gadget. As Nicky told Jess back in New York when the con is on, one needs to always maintain focus.

Things in Buenos Aires get murkier when Jess appears on the scene looking absolutely gorgeous in a red dress at an Argentine nightclub. Margot Robbie who excelled as the wife of Jordan Belfort in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street excels in this role making the screen sizzle with her beauty and naughty naivety. Viewers should also watch out for a great character role of Owens superbly played by Gerald McRaney recently seen in the brilliant Netflix series House of Cards.

Without giving away more of the plot, Focus does actually lose some of its focus especially in some of the scenes between Smith and Robbie, and the narrative does appear disjointed and is nowhere near as compact or sinister as Stephen Frears classic, The Grifters, but then that was on an entirely more sophisticated film. Although Focus by writing and directing team Ficarra and Requa is not the first film of theirs that I have compared to The Grifters, Stephen Frears’s film noir classic, it is certainly the benchmark to set all con films by.

Focus is a fun filled if slightly drawn out con movie, with lots of glamour, a lot less action but nevertheless it’s beautiful to watch, yet the filmmakers fail to draw the audience in too deeply into the characters misfortunes. Recommended for those that enjoyed Now You See Me and I Love You Philip Morris.

 

 

 

A Familial Take on Loves Labours Lost

Crazy Stupid Love

Reclaiming his Manhood

The lack of a single director for this convoluted and at times funny romantic comedy owes very much to the obvious plot contrivances of Steve Carell’s latest film Crazy Stupid Love. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa who excelled in the more flamboyant film I Love You Philip Morris, and written by Dan Fogelman Crazy Stupid Love is a familial take on Loves Labours Lost but does not match up to the brilliant script of Friends with Benefit, despite having an enormously talented all star cast including Ryan Gosling as the playboy Jacob Palmer, the new hip girl Emma Stone as the quirky law graduate Hannah and Julianne Moore as Carell’s weak and superficial wife Emily Palmer.

Where this oddly titled romantic comedy does excel is in showing that love across the generational divide is unpredictable, quirky and sometimes comical. The best scenes in the film are when Cal Weaver, a frumpy mid-forties office worker played with the usual lack of appeal by Steve Carell is challenged by Gosling’s character, the smooth talking womanizer Palmer to rediscover Cal’s manhood and assert his sexual dominance in the dating arena. It is Gosling who shines in this role, along with Emma Stone as the cautious Hannah who eventually couple up much to the horror of Hannah’s parents. The ensemble cast of Crazy Stupid Love resemble a more cinematic version of a Shakespearian comedy and while like any ensemble cast, supporting characters often outshine the leading players.

Watch out for Josh Groban as Hannah’s boring lawyer boyfriend, Marisa Tomei as a depraved school teacher and Kevin Bacon as a thoroughly unattractive accountant. While the talents of Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei not to mention Julianne Moore are largely wasted on a script with shallow character development, Crazy Stupid Love is another version of Steve Carroll’s breakthrough comedy The 40 year Old Version. Steve Carell should perhaps play a villain in his next film role, while Ryan Gosling should really stick to more profound cinematic roles as in Half Nelson and Blue Valentine, although his brilliant role in Crazy Stupid Love is one of the films’ redeeming features.

The Grifters meets Brokeback Mountain?

I Love You Phillip Morris

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Initially I love you Phillip Morris came across as The Grifters meets Brokeback Mountain with elements of  the hit TV series Prison Break thrown in. An inventive film which clearly does not shy away from the truth of the picaresque tales of a con man and who gives a whole new slightly skewed definition of going off the straight and narrow. Jim Carrey plays Steve Russell who after a car accident dumps his religious Southern wife, a lovely performance by Leslie Mann and flings open the closet doors and moves to Key West, getting a boyfriend in tow. Discovering that gay lifestyles are expensive, Russell becomes a conman, whose childhood memories of identity are shattered by his parents breaking the news that he is adopted, hence not really knowing or worrying about his true identity or sense of self.

Russell lands up in prison due to a series of felonies and in Texas of all states. There he meets and falls in love with Phillip Morris a mild, naive and slightly muted performance by Ewan McGregor whose understated  role matches the flamboyance and colourful character of Russell played with panache and relish by Jim Carrey. The fact that they have met in a prison is indicative of the type of relationship which is both trapped by personal circumstances and the larger social system, filled with repression, occasional violence masking as homoeroticism. Fun is made of the relationships of male prisoners and sometimes of the issues of exchange and bartering within that confined environment, both sexual and physical.

What really makes I love you Philip Morris so compelling as a film is that it is a true story which took place entirely during the Bush administration, whilst also proving that Jim Carrey can take on more complex characters. The downside is that this remarkable piece of cinema is lacking in any uniformity of vision co-directed by John Requa and Glen Ficarara, who are certainly not the Coen brothers. So the visual style lacks in moments which could emphasize the dramatic and downplay the outrageous element of the narrative. To label this as a gay film would be incorrect for that would do injustice to such masterpieces as Tom Ford’s stylish A Single Man and Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain.

This is more a film about gay men who try to buck the system in a state as notoriously conservative as it is equally contradictory, Texas and the bizarre consequences that follow.

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As the tagline suggests The Conman that wouldn’t go straight is apt and while this is no classic is it is definitely an entertaining if not slightly disturbing piece of cinema and not for those easily offended. It fills the gap between The Grifters and the possibility of there being a Gay sequel to that brilliant Stephen Frears film sans Annette Bening.

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